Vegetables Go to School (AVRDC)
Vegetables Go to School addresses malnutrition, particularly among children, by establishing comprehensive school vegetable garden programs in selected countries in Africa and in Asia. The project, proposed as a nine-year, three-phase initiative, is part of a larger international movement to improve nutritional security and reduce malnutrition. The project’s overall goal is to contribute to improved nutritional security in the target countries through school vegetable gardens linked to other school-based health, nutrition and environmental initiatives with close participation of local communities. It builds on earlier work of AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) on school vegetable gardens in the Philippines and Indonesia and utilizes garden plot designs that incorporate highly nutritious traditional vegetables.
Why grow vegetable gardens in schools?
School gardens are gaining prominence due to the promotion of balanced diets, nutrition education, and the development of livelihood skills (FAO, 2010). However, school gardens are not a new concept. In 1957, FAO and UNICEF started the so-called Applied Nutrition Programs aimed at improving nutrition through school and community gardens, which were sometimes combined with small livestock production and fish ponds (FAO, 1966). Drescher (2002) gives an overview of school garden programs in developing countries and describes success stories as well as failures. School gardens have to be conceptualized and implemented together with the local community and must correspond to the local socio-cultural and environmental context, particularly in the choice of crops and in the way the garden is managed. Successful school garden projects not only target school children, but also school administrators, teachers, and parents. School garden programs can have multiplier effects by encouraging the establishment of private vegetable gardens at the homes of school children as reported by Drescher (2002). Among the important lessons learned is that successful school garden programs cannot be created in isolation, but must build links between nutrition, health, agriculture and education interventions to develop synergy (Holmer and Monse, 2006; Holmer, 2011).
Successful school vegetable gardens aim 1) to achieve better understanding of biological processes, sustainable agricultural practices, and raising environmental awareness; 2) to provide better information about healthy food choices, encouraging intake of diversified diets and ensuring water supply, sanitation and hygiene; and 3) to reduce the cost of food and provide a safety net to poor people by giving them the ability to grow their own food.
Despite more than fifty years of experience with school garden programs, the evidence that these programs contribute to nutritional, educational and economic outcomes is not well documented and largely anecdotal. It is important to learn from these programs in a more structured manner and collect data to improve their efficacy and quantify outcomes.